1998 GMC Sierra
1998 GMC Sierra 4×4 Regular Cab with Sportside body. Click image to enlarge

General Motors Corporation has re-made its full-size pickup trucks (GMC Sierra/Chevrolet Silverado and C/K pickup) just twice since the late 1980s: 1999 and 1988.

Still, each year in the 1990s GM tweaked its pickups just a little – or a lot. Styling, meanwhile, evolved steadily but not dramatically. That is, while it’s obvious the 1999 Chevy Silverado differs from the 1998 Chevy pickup, the changes are subtle. And it is a similar story as we go back towards the beginning of the last decade and the one before. Call them incremental changes.

Through them all, GM’s trucks managed to build a reputation for above average ride and handling and generally good overall hauling and towing abilities dating back to ’88. During that time, GM offered three main series of pickups: 1500 (half-ton), 2500 (three-quarter-ton) and 3500 (one-ton). When shopping, note the C designation refers to rear-drive trucks, while the K trucks are four-wheel drive. A variety of wheelbases and box sizes are out there for shoppers, too.

Best bets? The engine improvements for 1996 were impressive, so 1996 and newer should be your first choice. But these are good trucks overall, so an older more affordable one might also prove a reasonable choice. As always, insist on a thorough mechanical inspection. And because truck buyers are loyal owners, you’ll be lucky to find a really outstanding bargain.

If you’re looking at V6 power (160-200 horsepower), these perform adequately with the manual shifter. If you’re doing significant work, look for V8 power (5.0-litre rated at 175-230 horepower; 5.7-litre 200-255 horsepower; 7.4-litre 230-290 horsepower). For hauling, there is the V8 diesel (255-360 ft.-lbs. of torque).

In terms of comfort, GM’s pickups from 1988-98 were relatively good, compared to rivals. Four-wheel anti-lock braking came in 1995, but be wary of trucks with only the rear anti-lock system when the bed is unladen. You may find the back end jumps around during hard braking.

All in all, GM’s pickups during the period were perhaps the best vehicles GM produced at the time. They represent pretty good value. Just two recalls and a handful of technical service bulletins speak to the relatively good quality.

In any case, if you’re looking, here’s a quick rundown of the major changes GM made during this time:

  • 1997: new standard passenger-side airbag with a deactivation switch and both the 5.0-litre and 5.7-litre engines received more power and an optional third door became available on all models.

  • 1996: all gasoline Vortec engines retuned and the 6.5-litre diesel was replaced with a turbodiesel of the same size; a passenger-side rear door became available on C/K 1500 extended cab models.

  • 1995: a driver-side airbag and standard four-wheel anti-lock braking arrived.

  • 1994: two new 6.5-litre diesel V8 engines had their debut.

  • 1993: electronic controls arrived for the automatic transmissions.

  • 1992: all trucks got freshened interiors.

  • 1991: the 7.4-litre V8 engine was revised.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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